Deputy Declan Breathnach: Many disparate views will be expressed in the House and across the nation in this debate. The teacher in me would say a disparate view also exists on the definition of the word “sincere”, which we all sign at the bottom of many of our letters. The definition is thought to be based on the Latin sine cera, meaning without wax. This is my interpretation of it. It is believed to have come from the ancient firing of clay pottery, where unscrupulous individuals placed wax in the cracks and sold them as genuine. It is my sincerely held view and belief that regardless of whether one is at opposite ends of the spectrum in this debate or in what I believe is the huge middle ground, the sincere views held by people need to be respected. I am glad that everybody I have heard in the debate has said this, but I wonder.
I also believe that before anybody sets out their views on this issue, it is necessary once again to put the debate in context. Otherwise, the body of what I am about to say could be misconstrued. This context is as follows. In 2016, the Government established, as we in the House all know, the Citizens’ Assembly. Its report was discussed at the Oireachtas committee on the eighth amendment and a decision was made in the committee to put a question to the people on the eighth amendment. I want to state for the record that I made it my business to attend the launch of the Dáil committee’s report to acknowledge the work done by the committee in progressing to what I call a democratic referendum.
It is also important to say it is my understanding that the Government is clearly at a point where it is considering the wording of the referendum, and if we are to believe what we hear, it is having extreme difficulty in considering the most appropriate wording. This wording will eventually be placed on the ballot paper. While we all expect a referendum will occur in early summer, it is my belief that until the wording, and the draft heads of Bills that would be proposed if the eighth amendment were to be repealed, are available the House is talking in a vacuum.
I will now deal with the substance of my belief. I hate labels but, unfortunately, they are being used in the debate. I am pro-life. I spent 35 years teaching. In that 35 years I embraced disability and I witnessed first hand the great warmth, ability and talent of these children and, indeed, the career paths many of them have followed. It is on this basis, and not being overly gospel greedy, that I believe where there is life there is hope and that people can achieve what they want.
People have asked that certain disabilities not be mentioned, and I will not do so, but I want to say I am proud to have seen a child I taught complete a degree at Trinity College, despite the fact that person may not have been given the opportunity to live. When I was a schoolteacher, I debated this issue in sixth class, without expressing my view. The collective view of all children was always what that child said about the opportunity to achieve and to develop its talents. It is on this basis I hold a firm belief, and I want it to be respected, in the same way I respect the view of others.
If I thought for one minute that in supporting the repeal of the eighth amendment it would save one life, then I am quite happy with my stance on it. I know there are other ethical considerations, such as cases of fatal foetal abnormalities and where rape and incest have occurred. In all of this, I recognise there will be extraordinary cases, but my belief is we do not legislate for the few but for the common good. The few could be accommodated by better legislation rather than by a broad brush which would undoubtedly sweep all aside. I have a personal view, despite listening to the eighth amendment committee and the Dáil.
There is also a need to provide the medical community with sufficient clarity for it to do the excellent job it does, safe in the knowledge that the State and Legislature is on its side. I have not yet formed a definitive position on these matters and I will take the next period to further explore some of them. For example, although I am not a lawyer, it is my view that with a redrafting of the hippocratic oath taken by medical people, which has seen amendment or is different in many countries, the position of the medical profession could be strengthened in legislation.
The label of pro-life will be put on me but I fully respect the decision of anyone whose conscience tells them they are that other label, pro-choice. I may not agree with them but I respect their opinion on what is a deeply personal matter. I have no intention of telling anyone how they should vote on this matter. In my long period in politics going back over 45 years, I have never campaigned in a referendum as it is the people’s democratic right to make up their own minds.
As we all know, a matter like this cannot be squared using the Whip system in political parties, regardless of what party one is from. We all would have differences of opinion in parliamentary parties. Again, the idea of being respectful and being tolerant of other views in the world should be appreciated. There has already been much negative campaigning and I do not want to see a return to the 1983 referendum. We need informed debate and I encourage people, when the referendum commission that is charged with giving a balanced opinion on this begins its work, to read about the two sides of the argument. That is more important than listening to politicians. It is important to remind people to do just what I have said. The commission is charged with giving an unbiased view and opinion that people should respect. The report should be read and digested before negativity enters any portion of the debate. The advertisements on both sides on social media can be bought by virtually anybody and people should be sceptical. Fake news on both sides is not unique to America.
The scenarios will be as follows. If a simple repeal is chosen and passed by the people, the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013 will remain the law until it is repealed by this Parliament. It would then be a matter for the Oireachtas to decide with what to replace it. I can imagine many long debates on that in future, whether I am in the House or not. If the provisions of Article 40.3.3° are amended, the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013 remains the law until it is replaced. Of course, if the people vote to defeat the wording of the amendment, the status quo remains.
I thank the House for allowing me to set out my stall to my colleagues and my electorate. It is easy to have differing opinions. As Father Brian D’Arcy stated the other night on Claire Byrne’s programme, being good listeners is also important when debating this crucial topic.